Revised order allows winter sports to resume
Fri, 02/05/2021 - 11:25am caleb
Amended MDHHS epidemic order says basketball and wrestling can practice and compete while using masking and testing protocols
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced updates to its “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” on Thursday, February 4, that allow high school “contact” winter sports such as basketball and wrestling to participate in competition as early as the week of February 8, a significant change from a previous version of the order that suspended those activities until February 21.
State officials – during a press conference on Thursday, February 4 – said COVID-19 numbers have improved enough in Michigan to make the change.
“As of yesterday we were at 563,893 cases and 14,704 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. Here’s where we are with the key metrics that we are tracking. Cases are currently at 159 cases per million and have been declining steadily over the past 24 days,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive. “Three regions – Detroit, Traverse City, and the Upper Peninsula – are all less than 150 cases per million people. Our test positivity rate is also declining and is now at 4.9 percent. That is the lowest it has been since mid-October. The percent of beds that are utilized by patients with COVID-19 is steadily declining as well and is now at 6.6 percent.”
“Michiganders are doing their part by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and socially distancing. Because we continue to see our metrics trending in the right direction we can move forward with allowing contact sports practices and competitions with specific public health measures in place like masks and testing,” Dr. Khaldun said.
“Gatherings for the purpose of contact sports practice and competition are prohibited unless participants remain masked or where it would be unsafe for participants to remain masked, all participants are tested consistent with MDHHS’s document entitled Guidance for Athletics issued February 7, 2021. Gatherings for the purpose of sports practice and competition are prohibited unless participants maintain 6 feet of distance from each other when not engaged in play. Sports organizers, venues, and teams must ensure that all gatherings for the purpose of sports competition and practice comply with the requirements of this order. Even where it is not required, sports organizers are encouraged to administer a testing program as specified MDHHS’s document entitled Guidance for Athletics issued February 7, 2021,” according to the February 4 revision of the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
“Michigan is making encouraging progress in eliminating this virus in communities across our state,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “And while it’s important we remain cautious and adhere to safety protocols to prevent this virus from spreading once more, thanks to our efforts over these last few months – and I mean our efforts, all of our efforts – we are now ready to take a few steps forward in returning to some normal day to day activities.”
“Today, DHHS is issuing an epidemic order to allow in-person practice and competitions for sports leagues starting on Monday, February 8. I know these past few months have been tough on all of us and I know they’ve been really hard on student athletes who’ve been missing a sense of connection and belonging as well as the many other attributes that playing sports provides,” Governor Whitmer said. “I appreciate the passion of our young athletes and the desire that they share to get back in the game that they love.”
“Here in Michigan we all love sports. It’s part of our DNA,” Governor Whitmer said. “Our numbers are now in a place where we can allow our kids to get back in the game with their coaches and teammates.”
“This is exciting news and I’m so glad that our kids are going to be able to get back into playing the sports that they love. It’s also important to remember that as we take this step we must remain vigilant. At the end of the day what has been the most important throughout this process in making sure that our kids can play is that we keep them safe as they do. We don’t want them to put their own health or the health of their families at risk,” Governor Whitmer said.
Grayling High School has three official varsity sports during the winter season: basketball, wrestling, and skiing. Skiing, as an outdoor non-contact sport, has been allowed to practice and compete with a few restrictions during the recent Gatherings and Face Mask Order versions. Basketball and wrestling, as indoor “contact sports,” were suspended for a few weeks before recently being allowed to resume practicing on a “non-contact” basis.
The February 4 version of the MDHHS order allows practices and games/meets for basketball and wrestling to resume on February 8.
“I understand the interest and emotion connected to finding solutions that allow us to gradually reopen opportunities for youth sports, including their physical and mental health benefits, while keeping our kids, coaches, and families as safe as possible from COVID-19,” said Elizabeth Hertel, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Contact sports – like other activities where participants gather and interact in close proximity across multiple households – naturally pose a greater risk of COVID-19 and it remains our responsibility to protect public health; however, as Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers trend down we believe there are opportunities to be agile and resume youth sports with a combination of public health measures and testing in place.”
“Today I signed an amended epidemic order that will allow youth contact sports to resume practice and competition with consistent masking, team testing, and other precautions beginning February 8. This includes ice hockey, basketball, wrestling, soccer, and more,” Hertel said. “I’m excited that we are at this point where we can take this step.”
The Michigan High School Athletic Association – on Thursday, February 4 – announced specific rules and guidelines for winter contact sports as they resume, as well as updated tournament schedules.
“Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools may begin full practice activities in the winter contact sports of girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling on Monday, February 8, with some precautions to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19,” according to an MHSAA announcement on February 4. “Competition in those four sports also will begin with basketball and hockey able to play February 8 and cheer and wrestling able to compete starting February 12. Those four winter contact sports have been able to practice since January 16, but only with non-contact activities. All four winter contact sports also must participate with some level of masking and/or rapid testing.”
Masks are required at all times for basketball players and coaches.
“All (basketball) participants must wear face coverings at all times – during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the floor if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed,” according to the MHSAA. “Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday.”
District tournament games for basketball are scheduled for March 22, 24, and 26 for the girls and March 23, 25, and 27 for the boys.
The MHSAA is not requiring masks for wrestlers while they’re on the mats competing.
“Testing is required for wrestling, but competitors will not be required to wear face coverings. Teams may compete two days per week, Monday through Sunday, with no more than four teams at a site (with each individual competing in up to three matches per day),” according to the MHSAA.
Middle school sports will have the same regulations as their high school counterparts, according to the MHSAA.
“The same masking and testing requirements will be in place for all junior high/middle school teams wishing to participate in the four winter contact sports,” according to the MHSAA.
“We are counting on everyone to help make this work so we won’t eventually have to take steps backward again. During all practices and competitions participants are required to remain masked during play. For sports where participants can not remain masked, all participants must be tested consistent with the testing protocol that will be specified in the department’s guidance for athletics to be issued February 7,” Hertel said. “Masks should be worn at all times when not playing. Participants are required to maintain six feet of distance from each other during practice and when not engaged in competitive play.”
Hertel said enforcement of the protocols is up to the schools and the governing bodies for sports, and she said schools should restrict attendance at games and meets to two people per athlete.
“Sports organizers, the institutions, the schools, associations, or other organizations that set and enforce rules to ensure the physical health and safety of all participants for an organized sport must ensure that all competitions and practices comply with these requirements, and even when it is not required, sports organizers are strongly encouraged to administer a testing protocol as specified in our interim guidance for athletics,” Hertel said. “This guidance will include a recommendation that attendance be limited to two spectators per athlete to reduce the risk of COVID-19.”
The February 4 Gatherings and Face Mask Order is listed as being in effect through March 29.